Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Gently paced with likeable leads and sharply observant camerawork, Chuchotage is the sort of comedy that works because it's so easy to identify with."

The art of interpretation is a delicate thing, especially when it is delivered live. Listening, understanding - the sense as well as the words - substituting terms and composing sentences and reciting them all at the same time, with the same rhythm and emotion if possible it's a tremendous feat. Not, one might suggest, an activity that can be sensibly undertaken at the same time as engaging in the fine art of seduction.

Pál (Pál Göttinger) and András (Géza Takács) have been employed to translate English language speeches into Hungarian at a conference about washing machines and the future viability of the energy level indicator. This might not sound like the stuff of an Oscar-shortlisted short comedy, but as the Oscars themselves demonstrated in 2017, things don't always go according to the script. Here, our intrepid heroes veer decidedly off script when they realise that they are only translating for one person - and when an interim comment about the lights in the lecture theatre sees an elegant blonde tilt back her had to look upwards.

The story here is simple and not really surprising. The fun is in the delivery. It's potentially hazardous territory - can one make comedy out of what could easily be interpreted as sexual harassment? Writer/director Barnabás Tóth navigates this by inviting us to laugh at the pair's behaviour as much as we laugh along with it, as we watch and try to interpret the expressions on the woman's face, which they can't see; as we observe the way they compete with one another, each allowing himself to believe that once the other is out of the way she will be his. Tied up in this are different kinds of risk. Does explicitly sexual flirtation make a man seem too easy? Does romantic flirtation make him too vulnerable? In trying to create an illusion for the woman, they gradually become caught up in illusion themselves.

Gently paced with likeable leads and sharply observant camerawork, Chuchotage is the sort of comedy that works because it's so easy to identify with, so cognisant of commonplace human failings. It's a film in which what might be dismissed as pathetic attracts a little sympathy, makes room for a little warmth. It certainly livens up the story of the modern washing machine, though in this case the spin might be taken a little too far.

Those who recall Monty Python's Hungarian phrasebook sketch will likely conclude that a hovercraft full of eels would present a far less slippery situation.

Reviewed on: 12 Jan 2019
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Chuchotage packshot
During a professional conference in Prague, two interpreters in the Hungarian booth realise that only one person is listening to them. They vie for her attention.

Director: Barnabás Tóth

Writer: Barnabás Tóth

Starring: Pál Göttinger, Andrea Osvárt, Géza Takács

Year: 2018

Runtime: 17 minutes

Country: Hungary


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